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Eyes of Mercy

Luke 15

Lesson audio

“The eyes of mercy are quicker than the eyes of repentance.” - C. H. Spurgeon.

In this section of the Gospel we find that compelling story of repentance and forgiveness, the Prodigal Son. But first, let us see the context in which it is set:

Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." So He told them this parable, saying, "What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? "When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. "And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!' "I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. "Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? "When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!' "In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

(Luk 15:1-10 NASB)

It is quite the fact that Jesus of Nazareth did not seem to care about the respectability of the people he talked to. Indeed, the Pharisees groused against him for what they saw as blasphemy – and because it just wasn’t right for a self respecting rabbi to go to some of those places, eating and drinking with those people. But as Christ makes clear in this passage, his mission is to seek and save the lost.

He describes the lost in two ways:

  • There are those that wander off. People who come to church, become disaffected and never really bond – but who still believe. It is our task to round up these sheep.
  • There are those who are lost not of their own fault. Those who simply don’t know any better; those who were misled – and then abandoned. It is our task to diligently find these.

There is a difficulty in this. Most Christians think of themselves as decent, upright folks – the pillars of society that we are supposed to be. People who know enough to avoid the brothels, bars and blasphemy. Yet Christ’s command is clear:

  • We are to search no matter where. There is no place so dark that the Light of the World cannot penetrate it.
  • We are to search no matter when. Today is the day and now is the hour of salvation.
  • We are to search no matter how. The woman lit a lamp and used a broom. If it takes car shows and rock-n-roll to bring them in, then so be it.
Lessons about God

We see here some of God’s character. He leaves the 99 to chase after the one; he chases each of us, individually. His concern is for the lost first; the righteous are always with Him.

In the story of the coin we see something else. Remember, the sheep wandered away – but the coin was misplaced. It wasn’t the coin’s fault. So it is with many today. They simply don’t know any better. But God commands that we sweep diligently. Light a lamp? Can we see who they are? Use a broom? Perhaps we need to be more thorough in our approach. Above all else – diligence.

The result, however, is great rejoicing. A sinner coming home is cause for the party to begin. As we shall see.

The Prodigal Son

It is one of the most familiar stories in the Bible. We begin with the younger son.

And He said, "A man had two sons. "The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.' So he divided his wealth between them. "And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. "Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. "So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. "And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. "But when he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! 'I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men."' "So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. "And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'

(Luk 15:11-21 NASB)

May we take this in three easy steps? Before, Changing and After.


One thing is clear about this younger son: he rejects the way his father does things. The father is likely enough a hard worker; the kid is lazy. He wants to party without have to work to earn it. This form of rebellion hasn’t gone away. I’m reminded of Dennis the Menace running away from home – and asking his mother to drive him.

Sin is at its very root rebellion against God – a rejection of the things God intends. It is a curious thing: we rebel against the commands gives us for our own good – and then complain when suffering results. God uses pain and suffering for his purposes. It is very inconvenient to those of us who feel we have to do it our way.


The prodigal now comes to his senses. We may discern three things of use:

  • First, his thoughts give rise to action. He could have wallowed in self-pity, promising God to become much wiser. Sometimes we think that as long as we repent in our minds, that’s all God could want. It is not so; repentance must lead to action, or it is just a dream.
  • Second, notice that this is a rational decision. The boy reasons from the facts. There is no sense that an emotional altar call is involved; he reasons logically about his situation. That is what is meant by “coming to his senses.”
  • Finally, his decision tells us again that we are not self-sufficient – and the more we try to be, the more God makes it clear we cannot.

It’s an interesting parallel: the view the prodigal takes of his father, and the view many of us have – or had – of God. The prodigal thinks that his father will deal with him in the way he deserves. We know that God will punish us if we ever repent, right? No, God is merciful.

So the boy prepares “the speech”. We get the full picture. He makes two points:

  • The sin is not just against his father – but also “against heaven.” All sin is offensive to God.
  • There is a rejection of any thought that by his repentance he has earned a place at the family breakfast table. On the contrary, he has humbled himself.

The Father

This is an extraordinary picture of God:

"So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. "And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' "But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.' And they began to celebrate.

(Luk 15:20-24 NASB)

The eyes of mercy are quicker than the eyes of repentance indeed. Do you not see that the father sees his son a long way off – and therefore must have been looking for him? It is that way with God; long before we see him by faith, he is looking after us. Indeed, as many of us could verify, God is often dealing with us by his favor long before we recognized it.

His way is even more remarkable for this: he does not send the uninvolved to repair the family; he comes himself. Indeed, in all the Scripture there is only one place where God is pictured as running – right here. Consider how great his mercy must be, if he sees the prodigal returning and then runs to meet him. This is the attitude God wants.

The party

Notice one thing: the party is dad’s idea. There is more rejoicing in heaven for the one than for the 99. Indeed, the “worthiness” of the son is not even mentioned – by anyone but the son. Dad puts the ring on the finger, sandals on the feet, new clothes for the rags and then orders up the party. In short, he showers upon this undeserving son all the blessings that a happy father can bestow. His son is home; his heart is glad of it.

The Older Brother

"Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. "And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. "And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.' "But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. "But he answered and said to his father, 'Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.' "And he said to him, 'Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. 'But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.'"

(Luk 15:25-32 NASB)

There is an interesting comparison to be made between the two brothers. One thing is clear: they both are self-centered. The older brother is bent out of shape, and we should examine his motives and complaints:

  • His big complaint is that he’s been treated unfairly. Remember the laborers in the vineyard? He’s born the work, the kid had all that fun. It’s not fair. He’s right, it isn’t. Mercy is never justice. To complain of this misses the point entirely.
  • He holds an over estimate of his own worth. He sees himself as the loyal worker – one who never got anything he didn’t work for. Generosity is seen as foolishness; good things are to be earned. And those who do so are obviously worth people. Self made men are often do it yourself kits.
  • He holds his brother in contempt; he blames him for this injustice.

In short, he’s self-righteous.

Father’s reply

May I point out one little fact that is often overlooked? The father runs to meet the younger son – he also goes out to meet the older son. He’s treating them both as sinners.

The older brother knows that it’s all his kid brother’s fault. Dad knows it too; it’s just that he chooses to ignore it. Mercy triumphs over judgment.


What may we say at the end of this?

  • What’s wrong is still wrong; nothing here erases the sin – but forgiveness is ready for this sinner.
  • It is a gift from God – which we should imitate. Hate the sin, love the sinner.
  • There is no thought whatever on how to deal with a sinner who is not repentant.
  • But the father runs to the repentant – even to the repentant self-righteous.

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